Health and Medical News and Resources

General interest items edited by Janice Flahiff

[Magazine article] Pesticides in produce

Consumer Reports’ new guidelines show you how to make the best choices for your health—and for the environment

From the 19 March 2015 article

How risky are pesticides?   |  What’s the evidence that pesticides hurt your health?   |  Who may be at greatest risk from pesticide exposure?   |  Does eating organic mean I won’t be eating any pesticides?    |  Should I skip conventionally grown produce?   |  Rules to shop by 



Across America, confusion reigns in the supermarket aisles about how to eat healthfully. One thing on shopper’s minds: the pesticides in produce. In fact, a recent Consumer Reports survey of 1,050 people found that pesticides are a concern for 85 percent of Americans. So, are these worries justified? And should we all be buying organics—which can cost an average of 49 percent more than standard fruits and vegetables?

Experts at Consumer Reports believe that organic is always the best choice because it is better for your health, the environment, and the people who grow our food. The risk from pesticides in produce grown conventionally varies from very low to very high, depending on the type of produce and on the country where it’s grown. The differences can be dramatic. For instance, eating one serving of green beans from the U.S. is 200 times riskier than eating a serving of U.S.-grown broccoli.

“We’re exposed to a cocktail of chemicals from our food on a daily basis,” says Michael Crupain, M.D., M.P.H., director of Consumer Reports’ Food Safety and Sustainability Center. For instance, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that there are traces of 29 different pesticides in the average American’s body. “It’s not realistic to expect we wouldn’t have any pesticides in our bodies in this day and age, but that would be the ideal,” says Crupain. “We just don’t know enough about the health effects.”

If you want to minimize your pesticide exposure, see the chart below. We’ve placed fruits and vegetables into five risk categories—from very low to very high. (Download our full scientific report, “From Crop to Table.”) In many cases there’s a conventional item with a pesticide risk as low as organic. Below, you’ll find our experts’ answers to the most pressing questions about how pesticides affect health and the environment. Together, this information will help you make the best choices for you and your family.



March 20, 2015 Posted by | Nutrition | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

[Press release] ‘Nudges’ try to help college students live healthier

‘Nudges’ try to help college students live healthier 



Students run up the bleachers at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium on the University of Florida campus. A new national study aimed at preventing college students from gaining weight used Internet lessons and “nudges” to try to get them to live healthier lifestyles. Karla Shelnutt, a UF/IFAS assistant professor in family, youth and community sciences and a study investigator, considers the web messages successful if they helped students progress from thinking about eating more fruits and vegetables to actually doing so.Credit: UF/IFAS file photo.

From the 14 November 2014 University of Florida press release:

From the 12 November 2014 University of Florida press release

GAINESVILLE, Fla. – Internet lessons and “tailored” text alerts can help some young people adopt healthier lifestyles, according to a national study aimed at preventing weight gain.

Although experimental group students didn’t gain or lose more weight than their control group counterparts, researchers remain hopeful the Internet-message approach can work because it helped college students progress from what researchers call the “contemplative stage” to the “action stage.”

An example of the contemplative stage would be someone who’s thinking about trying to eat fatty foods less frequently, but hasn’t taken action to do so, while someone at the action stage would choose to eat a salad, instead.

In the study, students aged 18-24 received individually targeted messages. Some students were in the “pre-contemplative” stage; others fell into the “action” stage, while others were in various stages between those two.

The study, published online last week in the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior, found more students who received the Web messages ate more fruits and vegetables and were more physically active than those in the control group.

Researchers weren’t as concerned about students losing weight as they were with giving them strategies to lead healthier lives to prevent weight gain, said Karla Shelnutt, a University of Florida assistant professor in family, youth and community sciences.



November 14, 2014 Posted by | Medical and Health Research News | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Is There Such a Thing as Eating Too Many Fruits and Vegetables?


English: Fruit on display at La Boqueria marke...

English: Fruit on display at La Boqueria market in Barcelona. Français : Fruits à l’étal dans le marché de La Boqueria à Barcelone. Español: Fruta en el mercado de La Boquería, en Barcelona. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


From the 24 July 2012 article at Science News Daily


t may make you scratch your head, but in fact it is possible to overeat healthy foods, according to Loyola University Health System registered dietitian Brooke Schantz.

While fruits are nutritious, too much of even a healthy food can lead to weight gain,” Schantz said. “The key is to remember to control the portion sizes of the foods you consume.”

Schantz reported that overeating healthy foods is easy to do, but the same rules apply to healthy food as junk food. Weight fluctuates based on a basic concept — energy in versus energy out. If your total caloric intake is higher than the energy you burn off in a day, you will gain weight. If it is lower, you will lose weight.

“I have had many patients tell me that they don’t know why they are not losing weight,” Schantz said. “Then they report that they eat fruit all day long. They are almost always shocked when I advise them to watch the quantity of food they eat even if it is healthy.”

Schantz said that one exception applies. Nonstarchy vegetables are difficult to overeat unless they are accompanied by unnecessary calories from sauces, cheeses and butter. This is due to the high water and fiber content of these vegetables coupled with the stretching capacity of the stomach. The vegetables she suggested limiting are those that are high in starch, such as peas, corn and potatoes. Foods that are labeled as fat-free or low-fat are another area of concern.

“People tend to give themselves the freedom to overeat ‘healthy’ foods,” Schantz said. “While the label might say that a food or beverage is low-fat or fat-free, watch the quantity you consume and refrain from eating an excessive amount. Foods that carry these health claims may be high in sugar and calories.”




July 25, 2012 Posted by | Nutrition | , , , , | Leave a comment

Just Making Two Lifestyle Changes Spurs Big And Lasting Results

English: Half a dozen home-made cookies. Ingre...

English: Half a dozen home-made cookies. Ingredients: butter, flour, white sugar, brown sugar, eggs, vanilla, soda, salt, and chocolate chips. Français : Demie-douzaine de cookies fait-maison. Ingrédients: beurre, farine, sucre en poudre, œufs, vanille, soda, sel et grain de chocolat. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

From the 30 May 2012 article at Medical News Today

Simply ejecting your rear from the couch means your hand will spend less time digging into a bag of chocolate chip cookies.

That is the simple but profound finding of a new Northwestern Medicine study, which reports simply changing one bad habit has a domino effect on others. Knock down your sedentary leisure time and you’ll reduce junk food and saturated fats because you’re no longer glued to the TV and noshing. It’s a two-for-one benefit because the behaviors are closely related.

The study also found the most effective way to rehab a delinquent lifestyle requires two key behavior changes: cutting time spent in front of a TV or computer screen and eating more fruits and vegetables. …

June 1, 2012 Posted by | Consumer Health, Nutrition | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Exercise and a Healthy Diet of Fruits and Vegetables Extends Life Expectancy in Women in Their 70s

From the 29 May 2012 article at Science News Daily

Women in their seventies who exercise and eat healthy amounts of fruits and vegetables have a longer life expectancy, according to research published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society….

…Researchers at the University of Michigan and Johns Hopkins University studied 713 women aged 70 to 79 years who took part in the Women’s Health and Aging Studies. This study was designed to evaluate the causes and course of physical disability in older women living in the community.

“A number of studies have measured the positive impact of exercise and healthy eating on life expectancy, but what makes this study unique is that we looked at these two factors together,” explains lead author, Dr. Emily J Nicklett, from the University of Michigan School of Social Work.

Researchers found that the women who were most physically active and had the highest fruit and vegetable consumption were eight times more likely to survive the five-year follow-up period than the women with the lowest rates…

May 31, 2012 Posted by | Nutrition | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Is Local More Nutritious? It depends

Is Local More Nutritious? It depends

From the Harvard Center for Health and the Global Environment Web site

Local food advocates and confirmed “locavores” are quick to claim that local food is more nutritious. But is it really? While this seems like a simple straightforward question, it is anything but! The answer, like many having to do with food and nutrition, is a definite, “It depends.”By the time fruits and vegetables reach your kitchen counter – whether from a stall at a local farmers market, or the supermarket produce department – several factors determine their nutritional quality: the specific variety chosen, the growing methods used, ripeness when harvested, post harvest handling, storage, extent and type of processing, and distance transported. The vitamin and mineral content of fruits and vegetables depends on decisions and practices all along the food system – from seed to table – whether or not that system is local or global.

But before concluding there is no nutritional justification for eating locally, let’s take a closer look at this system.

Variety. Most varieties of fruits and vegetables found in supermarkets today were chosen first and foremost for yield (how many pounds, pecks, bushels, etc. are harvested per acre), growth rate, and ability to withstand long-distance transport. Unfortunately, these traits which benefit national and international produce distribution often come at a cost: nutritional quality. Fruit and vegetable varieties differ in appearance and taste, as well as their vitamin, mineral, and phytochemical content. Farmers producing for a local and direct market (farmers’ market, community supported agriculture (CSA) members, or a local restaurant or grocer, for example), are more likely to prioritize taste and nutritional quality over durability when making varietal decisions.

Production Method. Production methods that improve the health of the soil – such as the use of cover crops and composted manure for fertilizers – tend to yield crops with higher nutritional content. The roots of crops grown organically or in some Integrated Pest Management systems are healthier and grow deeper allowing them to more efficiently take up nutrients. Composted manures and other organic fertilizers release nutrients more slowly and over longer periods than synthetic chemical alternatives, which also enhances nutrient uptake by the plants.

Ripeness. When produce is ready for harvest varies from one fruit and vegetable to another and depends on whether it is “climacteric” not. Climacteric fruits – such as apples, nectarines, melons, apricots, peaches, and tomatoes – are capable of generating the ripening hormone ethylene, after being detached from the mother plant. Non-climacteric crops – for example, peppers and citrus – reach commercial maturity on the plant only. Being somewhat autonomous, from the ripening point of view, climacteric fruits will change in taste, aroma, color and texture as they reach and pass a transitory respiratory peak related to ethylene production. Climacteric produce such as tomatoes reach full red color even when harvested green while non-climacteric vegetables, such as bell peppers, will not. As a general rule, the more mature the product, the shorter its post-harvest life. So, if destined for distant markets, climacteric fruits are often harvested as early as possible, after reaching their physiological maturity, in order to withstand mechanical harvesting and long-distance transport without damage.

While full color may be achieved after harvest, nutritional quality may not. Total vitamin C content of red peppers, tomatoes, apricots, peaches and papayas has been shown to be higher when these crops are picked ripe from the plant which, in the case of tomatoes, is attributable to increased sun exposure while attached to the mother plant. While the vitamin C content of tomatoes, for example, will increase to some degree after picking, it will not reach levels found in those allowed to vine ripen. Because tomatoes make up nearly a quarter of total US vegetable consumption, following production and harvest practices that maximize their nutritional content is particularly important to public health of Americans.

Post-harvest Handling. Maintaining nutritional quality after fruits and vegetables are harvested requires careful handling. This means, chilling (to remove the “field heat”) immediately, preventing bruising, and maintaining specific temperature, and humidity during storage and distribution. Careful handling preserves plant integrity and quality and careless handling chemically alters plant structure, often diminishing nutritional quality. Further, nutrients differ in how they are affected by various farming and post-harvest practices.

Bruising from handling is one of the most common problems. Mechanical harvesting methods like those used in mass production have the potential to be most damaging and can result in accelerated nutrient losses. Bulk handling involving forklifts or trucks after picking significantly contributes to crop injury particularly with apples. Delicate items like berries and tomatoes are also easily affected. In tomatoes, there has even been evidence of abnormal ripening following impact bruising.

Processing and Packaging. Fruits and vegetables are increasingly found on supermarket shelves pre-cut in open containers or in various types of packaging. These items are considered “fresh cut” or “lightly or minimally processed products” and have increased in sales in the US in billions of dollars since the mid-1990s. These products are highly perishable, as they have already experienced stress and are left without intact skin for protection and prevention of nutrient loss. Minimal processing – cutting, slicing, chopping, peeling, etc. – while tremendously useful from a food service standpoint, causes injuries to the plant tissues and initiates enzymatic changes, such as ethylene production, respiration, accumulation of secondary metabolites and water loss from tissues. This increases susceptibility to microbial spoilage, which not only compromises food safety, but alters chemical make-up and promotes loss of nutrients. The effect of processing on antioxidants and phytonutrients vary.

To preserve moisture and humidity as well as protect fresh-cut products, films and coatings are used. Packaging can help preserve some nutrients in fresh-cut products, particularly if done at the right time and under appropriate conditions, mainly because it delays ripening and deterioration. Other techniques such as irradiation, chemical preservation (dips in ascorbic acid, calcium chloride, and/or citric acid), modification of pH, and reduction of water activity (with sugars/salts) are also used to control deterioration of processed products.

Storage. Due to continued respiration and enzymatic activity, minimally processed fruits and vegetables suffer changes in nutritional value and sensory quality including loss of texture, appearance and flavor during storage,18 especially if factors such as temperature, atmosphere, relative humidity and sanitation are not well regulated.16 Fresh-cut produce must be maintained at lower temperatures than whole fruits and vegetables, as they tend to have higher respiration rates, which increase as temperature rises. Temperature maintenance is considered most deficient factor in post-harvest handling of minimally processed foods, which is why contained, modified atmospheres are important.

Transportation. The advent of refrigerated trucks and rail cars has made it possible to eat fresh California or Mexico produce in the Northeast. But even when temperature and humidity are optimal from harvest to supermarket, there is some nutrient loss during days-long trip. If temperature control is faulty, losses accelerate. Bruising damage, with subsequent decrease in nutrition quality, is likely when transported at high speeds on bumpy roads. The longer the trip, the more potential for damage.

The Bottom Line
While all of the factors affecting nutritional quality of fruits and vegetables – crop variety, production method, post-harvest handling, storage, and processing and packaging – apply equally to produce that is produced locally or on farms across the country, relying on local sources for your produce needs has some distinct advantages. First, even when the highest post-harvest handling standards are met, foods grown far away that spend significant time on the road, and therefore have more time to loss nutrients before reaching the marketplace.17,18 Second, farmers growing for a local (and especially a direct) market favor taste, nutrition and diversity over shipability when choosing varieties. Greater crop diversity from the farmer means greater nutritional diversity for the eater. Third, in direct and local marketing strategies, produce is usually sold within 24 hour after harvest, at its peak freshness and ripeness, making consuming them a more attractive prospect. Fourth, during this short time and distance, produce is likely handled by fewer people, decreasing potential for damage, and typically not harvested with industrial machinery. Minimizing transportation and processing can ensure maximum freshness and flavor, and nutrient retention.

This may seem like an overly simplistic explanation of why local fruits and vegetables are more healthful than those from our conventional long haul agricultural system. In the Northeast, diets based on foods available locally can be nutritionally adequate year-round. Concerns over nutritional adequacy usually arise because people are unaware of what is available. Fortunately, this guide can provide you with information regarding the delicious seasonal items of the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic, and how to prepare and store them.

“Locavore”, the 2007 New Oxford American Dictionary Word of the Year, refers to a person whose diet focuses on foods grown and produced nearby, typically 100 miles. The term reflects a growing trend of using locally grown ingredients, taking advantage of seasonally available foodstuffs that can be bought and prepared without the need for extra preservatives. The “locavore” movement encourages consumers to buy from farmers’ markets or even to grow or pick their own food, arguing that fresh, local products.


1.) Halweil B. Still No Free Lunch: Nutrient levels in U.S. food supply eroded by pursuit of high yields. Critical Issues Report. The Organic Center. September 2007.

2.) Howard LR, Pandijaitan N, Morelock T, Gil MI. Antioxidant capacity and phenolic content of spinach as affected by genetics and growing season. J Agric Food Chem. 2002; 50: 5891–5896.

3.) Liu M, Li XQ, Weber C, Lee CY, Brown J, Liu RH. Antioxidant and anti proliferative activities of raspberries. J Agri Food Chem. 2002; 50 (10): 2926–2930.

4.) Kopsell DA, Kopsell DE. Accumulation and bioavailability of dietary carotenoids in vegetable crops. Trends Plant Sci. 2001; 11(10): 499–507.

5.) López Camelo A F. Manual for the preparation and sale of fruits and vegetables: From field to market. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) Services Bulletin 151. ISSN 1010-1365. August, 2002

6.) Lee, SK, Kader, AA. Preharvest and postharvest factors influencing vitamin C content of horticultural crops.Postharvest Biol Technol. 2000; 20: 207 –220.

7.) Dumas Y, Dadomo M, Di Lucca G, Grolier P. Review. Effects of environmental factors and agricultural techniques on antioxidant content of tomatoes. J Sci Food Agric. 2003; 83: 369–382.

8.) Harris RS, Karmas E ed. Nutritional Evaluation of Food Processing. 3rd ed. New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold Company, Inc; 1988.

9.) US Environmental Protection Agency, Office of Pesticide Programs and US Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service. 2000b. Document files – Section 2: “Essential Information in Food Commodity Intake Database (FCID).”. Version 2.1 (CD-ROM computer file). National Technical Information Service, Springfield, VA.

10.) Dobrzañski B, Rabcewicz J, Rybczyñski R. Handling of Apple. 1st ed. Lublin: B Dobrzañski Institute of Agrophysics, Polish Academy of Sciences; 2006.

11.) Jeffrey EH, Brown AF, Kurilich AC, Keck AS, Matusheski N, Klein BP, Juvik JA. Variation in content of bioactive components in broccoli. J Food Comp Anal. 2003; 16 (3): 323–330.

12.) Moretti CL, Sargent SA, Huber D, Calbo AG, Puschmann R. Chemical composition and physical properties of pericarp, locule, and placental tissues of tomatoes with internal bruising. J Am Soc Hortic Sci. 1998; 123: 656–660.

13.) Watada AF, Ko WP, Minott DA. Factors affecting quality of fresh-cut horticultural products. Postharvest Bio Technol. 1996; 9: 115–125.

14.) Shah NS, Nath N. Minimally processed fruits and vegetables – Freshness with convenience. J Food Sci Tech. 2006; 43 (6): 561–570.

15.) Goldman IL, Kader AA, Heintz C. Influence of production, handling, and storage on phytonutrient content of food. Nutr Rev. 1999; S46–S52.

16.) Cantwell, M. Postharvest handling systems: minimally processed fruits and vegetables. UC Vegetable Research and Information Center. Available at: Accessed January 20, 2007.

17.) Heaton S. Organic Farming, Food Quality and Human Health. A Review. Soil Association, 2001.

18.) Worthington V. Nutritional quality of organic versus conventional fruits, vegetables, and grains.  J Altern Complement Med. 2001; 7(2): 161–173.

19.) Wilkins JL, Gussow JD. Regional dietary guidance: is the northeast nutritionally complete? In: Lockeretz W, ed. Agricultural production and nutrition. Proceedings of an international conference, Boston, March 19-21, 1997. Medford, MA Tufts University School of Nutrition Science and Public Policy, September 1997.

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February 25, 2011 Posted by | Nutrition | , , , , , | Leave a comment

10 Tips to Get Your Kids to Eat Vegetables and Fruits

From the American Heart Association Web page

In a new study, children who ate the most vegetables and fruits had significantly healthier arteries as adults than children who ate the fewest.  Here are 10 tips to encourage your children to eat more vegetables and fruits.

1.   Make fruit and vegetable shopping fun: Visit your local green market and/or grocery store with your kids, and show them how to select ripe fruits and fresh vegetables. This is also a good opportunity to explain which fruits and vegetables are available by season and how some come from countries with different climates.

2.   Involve kids in meal prep: Find a healthy dish your kids enjoy and invite them to help you prepare it. Younger kids can help with measuring, crumbling, holding and handing some of the ingredients to you. Older kids can help by setting the table. Make sure you praise them for their help, so they feel proud of what they’ve done.

3.   Be a role model: If you’re eating a wide range of fruits and vegetables — and enjoying them — your child may want to taste. If you aren’t eating junk food or keeping it in your home, your kids won’t be eating junk food at home either.

4.   Create fun snacks: Schedule snack times — most kids like routines. Healthy between-meal snacks are a great opportunity to offer fruits and vegetables. Kids like to pick up foods, so give them finger foods they can handle. Cut up a fruit and arrange it on an attractive plate. Make a smoothie or freeze a smoothie in ice cube trays. Create a smiley face from cut-up vegetables and serve with a small portion of low-fat salad dressing, hummus or plain low-fat yogurt. A positive experience with food is important. Never force your child to eat something, or use food as a punishment or reward.

5.   Give kids choices — within limits: Too many choices can overwhelm a small child. It’s too open ended to ask, “What would you like for lunch?” It may start a mealtime meltdown. Instead, offer them limited healthy choices, such as choosing between a banana or strawberries with their cereal, or carrots or broccoli with dinner.

6.   Eat together as a family: If your schedules permit, family dining is a great time to help your kids develop healthy attitudes about food and the social aspects of eating with others.  Make sure you are eating vegetables in front of your children. Even if they aren’t eating certain vegetables yet, they will model your behavior.

7.   Expect pushback: As your kids are exposed to other families’ eating habits, they may start to reject some of your healthy offerings. Without making a disparaging remark about their friends’ diet, let your children know that fruits and vegetables come first in your family.

8.   Grow it: Start from the ground up — create a kitchen garden with your child and let them plant tomatoes and herbs, such as basil and oregano in window boxes. If you have space for a garden, help them cultivate their own plot and choose plants that grow quickly, such as beans, cherry tomatoes, snow peas and radishes. Provide child-size gardening tools appropriate to their age.

9.   Covert operations: You may have tried everything in this list and more, yet your child’s lips remain zipped when offered a fruit or vegetable. Try sneaking grated or pureed carrots or zucchini into pasta or pizza sauces. Casseroles are also a good place to hide pureed vegetables. You can also add fruits and vegetables to foods they already enjoy, such as pancakes with blueberries, carrot muffins or fruit slices added to cereal. On occasions when you serve dessert, include diced fruit as an option.

10. Be patient: Changes in your child’s food preferences will happen slowly. They may prefer sweet fruits, such as strawberries, apples and bananas, before they attempt vegetables. Eventually, your child may start trying the new vegetable. Many kids need to see and taste a new food a dozen times before they know whether they truly like it. Try putting a small amount of the new food — one or two broccoli florets — on their plate every day for two weeks; but don’t draw attention to it.

December 4, 2010 Posted by | Nutrition | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment


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